CNN sues the president: What does news have to do with it?

by WorldTribune Staff, November 14, 2018

CNN, in a lawsuit filed on Nov. 13, accused President Donald Trump and other White House officials including White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders of violating CNN personality Jim Acosta’s First and Fifth Amendment rights by revoking his White House press credentials.

Pundits and “media experts” have launched a spirited debate over whether the suit is appropriate or ridiculous given Acosta’s behavior at the widely-seen press conference that led to his “hard pass” being removed. But is this fight really about news and freedom of the press?

CNN personality Jim Acosta

Radio host and chairman of the board of Landmark Legal Foundation Mark Levin called CNN’s lawsuit “ridiculous.”

Levin said: “CNN still has reporters at the White House and in the presidential press conferences; Acosta does not have a constitutional right to be physically present in the press room, anymore than the scores of media outlets that do not; Acosta can watch the press conference from outside the White House grounds as they are televised; the president cannot be compelled by any court to actually call on any particular reporter during a press conference; Acosta does not have a constitutional right to disrupt the press conference with his various antics anymore than any other reporter; and, a president is not constitutionally compelled to hold a presidential press conference. The courts should stay out of this on separation of powers grounds, among other things. No one is preventing Acosta from reporting or CNN from broadcasting.”

The Poynter Institute, a non-profit school for journalism, posted a commentary on its website by faculty members Al Tompkins and Kelly McBride that scolds Acosta for making political statements (the migrant caravan “is not an invasion”) instead of asking questions. The authors chide Acosta for treating a White House press briefing “the same as a cable news wrestling match, where sides shout at each other.”

But at least 16 major news organizations are backing CNN in its legal fight with the White House, including Fox News.

“It is imperative that independent journalists have access to the president and his activities, and that journalists are not barred for arbitrary reasons. Our news organizations support the fundamental constitutional right to question this president, or any president,” a group of news outlets said in a joint statement on Nov. 13.

The White House said Acosta was able to ask and had his questions answered, but went too far when he “refused to surrender” the microphone to a White House intern.

Sanders said in the statement on the CNN lawsuit: “We have been advised that CNN has filed a complaint challenging the suspension of Jim Acosta’s hard pass. This is just more grandstanding from CNN, and we will vigorously defend against this lawsuit.”

Sanders continued: “CNN, who has nearly 50 additional hard pass holders, and Mr. Acosta is no more or less special than any other media outlet or reporter with respect to the First Amendment. After Mr. Acosta asked the President two questions – each of which the President answered – he physically refused to surrender a White House microphone to an intern, so that other reporters might ask their questions. This was not the first time this reporter has inappropriately refused to yield to other reporters.

“The White House cannot run an orderly and fair press conference when a reporter acts this way, which is neither appropriate nor professional. The First Amendment is not served when a single reporter, of more than 150 present, attempts to monopolize the floor. If there is no check on this type of behavior it impedes the ability of the President, the White House staff, and members of the media to conduct business,” Sanders said.

Washington Post writer Bob Woodward argued that the remedy to Trump’s decision to revoke Acosta’s credentials isn’t a lawsuit, “it’s more serious reporting about what he’s doing.”

“In the news media there has been an emotional reaction to Trump,” Woodward said, later adding, “Too many people for Trump or against Trump have become emotionally unhinged about this.” contributing editor Sol Sanders said that “While it certainly does not set new precedents in the long history of opposition of the press to the contemporary presidential administration, the virulence of the current impasse is on a new order.”

Eric Yaverbaum, a 35-year public relations and marketing veteran, said “no matter how it shakes out, whether the White House wins or loses the case, CNN – which has made its entire identity in the Trump era one of public service and advocacy for the free press – will have successfully established itself as the president’s primary opposition, with the audience that comes with it.”

Joe Schaeffer, writing for, noted that “CNN’s business model since August 2015 has been devoted to bringing down Trump, and it relishes the chance to assume the mantle of No. 1 Enemy of the White House. This is the work environment in which the clownish Acosta operates.”

The White House, Schaeffer wrote, “is well within its right to strip the false cloak of neutrality from what is a clearly partisan and unprofessional television network.”

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